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{Review} The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna

Read for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge 2014 (Finland)

Back in 2012 when I started this blog, one of the first books I reviewed was Paasilinna’s A Charming Mass Suicide. Weird as it may sound, I needed to read that book at that stage of my life. I was afraid to try to read any of his other works as I didn’t know if they’d strike the same chord as A Charming Mass Suicide.

Two years later, in a completely different country and forced to sit in a chair for most of the day (I’ve sprained my ankle and my goodness does it HURT), one of my house-mates lent me The Year of the Hare to pass the time.

Did it live up to the high standard Paasilinna set with ACMS?

Blurb from the publisher’s site
Vatanen the journalist is sick of his job and fed up with city life. One summer evening while he is out on an assignment his car hits a young hare on a country road. Vatanen goes in search of the injured creature, and this small incident becomes a life-changing experience as he decides to break free from the world’s constraints. He quits his job, leaves his wife and sells his possessions to travel in the wilds of Finland with his new-found friend. Their adventures take in forest fires, pagan sacrifices, military war games, killer bears and much more.

Review
As you may have gathered from my reviews of Nothomb’s “A Life Form” and Kurkov’s “Death and the Penguin

How can you say ‘no’ to this cover? Seriously! How?!

”, I do rather like my books to have a little dash of the unexpected in them. Luckily for me, The Year of the Hare definitely delivered the goods here.

I don’t know if I was reading this ‘right’, but my overwhelming impression was that this is the story of a man who decided that he wanted a simpler life and then spent the course of the novel finding out just how hard it is to lead that sort of life when you factor in interacting with the rest of the world.

That is a horrific over-simplification of a beautifully crafted story but I’m going to stand by it. Each chapter moved from one strange (and sometimes surreal) scene to the next and the penultimate chapter introduced a rather amusing twist on the book as a whole. No spoilers, I promise!

The section set in the USSR was particularly amusing, especially when contrasted with the action of the last few chapters. Sort of wondering if the bear was allegorical for the USSR…

Any theories on this one are welcome. 🙂

Overall
If you’re after a quick read with a plot that’ll stay with you for a while, then this is the book for you. Likewise, if you’re finally standing up to external pressures and trying to live the sort of life you’ve always hoped to, then you may find that this book makes you feel better about all the moments along the road when you end up falling flat on your face and feeling like an eejit.

As before, this Paasilinna novel found me at just the right time in life. 🙂 I sincerely hope we keep meeting like this.

In the meantime, if you have read any Finnish novels and enjoyed them, please tell me the titles?

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Posted by on July 4, 2014 in 2014 Reading Challenges, Books

 

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{Review} The Spectacular Group Suicide – Arto Paasilinna

As read for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge

I found this review very difficult to write. Not because the writing was bad or because the plot had more holes than my knitting (I keep dropping stitches).

In fact it was quite the reverse.

From my soapbox: first things first, I don’t find the subject of mental illness funny. After even a short period of depression, it can be almost impossible to just get up and get back on with life. What I do believe is that humour is one of the best methods to break down boundaries and get people talking in earnest about taboo subjects.


Blurb
“Contemplating suicide? Don’t worry, you are not alone!”

Thus begins the attempt of two men, who feel they have nothing to live for, to found a group for other suicidal people so that they don’t have to die alone.

After attracting more members than they had believed possible, the group sits down to discuss how to go about the business of dying. Their suicide attempts become ever more desperate as they travel across Europe, trying to find the perfect place to die. At almost every turn the group is foiled… by itself.

With each attempt, the Spectacular Group Suicide members explore their own and each others’ reasons for wanting to end their lives. For the first time in months (and years, in some cases), they start to talk about what they are going through.

Paasilinna takes on one of the most difficult subjects to come to terms with. Using bleak humour, shocking (but sadly true) statistics and a surprising level of sensitivity, he tackles Finland’s greatest killer.

Review
Feel free to flame me for saying this, but I felt that The Spectacular Group Suicide was a little like some of Chekhov’s work in terms of the plot’s tragicomic element. Within the first few pages, two of the main characters meet because they’re both looking for a quiet place to commit suicide.

The plot picked up momentum which was sustained for the first third of the novel. As the road-trip/ self-discovery elements started to set in, I felt that the novel started to sag a little. The pace picked up again near the end, but didn’t feel as smooth-flowing as it had done at the start.

There are facts and figures that I couldn’t believe, even after I had verified them. The factual elements are a slap in the face and strengthen (what I believe is) the underlying message that this is an issue that should be discussed publicly.

Whilst the main issue is suicide (and its causes), Paasilinna subtly weaves in a couple of other taboo subjects, such as HIV. This was skilfully done as this allows him to create a few more multi-faceted characters (something that can be hard to find in books about social issues *coughDickenscough*) who were as quick to condemn as they were to open their hearts to others like themselves.

Some elements devolved to the farcical, which did detract from the story. So as not to drop massive spoilers, I’m just going to write: fisticuffs with fascists and leave it at that.

The other element that left me somewhat disgruntled was Paasilinna’s portrayal of almost all people who seriously consider suicide as being able to find things worth living for after a few weeks of talking to others about how they feel. Research does indicate that people who can talk about how they feel can stabilise after months of therapy. The thing is that this ‘rule’ does not work in every case. The generalisation made the ending slightly less believable and could lead to misconceptions.


Overall
Whilst it’s easy to find books that deal with death, it’s much harder to find novels that explore suicide and attempted suicide without stigmatizing these people. Paasilinna has a done a wonderful job, taking a taboo subject and some facts and creating a story that gives hope to anyone who wants to start a discussion about this subject.

Whilst I have several disagreements with generalisation and a plot that doesn’t always flow, I truly believe that this book should be read by more adults so as to decrease the taboo nature of this subject.

After all, the main message of The Spectacular Group Suicide is that a little communication and understanding can go a long way in helping the most vulnerable around us.

 
WNI’s verdict: Wavering towards… WIN!

 

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